CHOLMLEY, Sir Hugh, 4th Bt. (1632-89), of the Inner Temple and Whitby, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Mar. 1679

Family and Education

b. 21 July 1632, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Sir Hugh Cholmley, 1st Bt., of Whitby by Elizabeth, da. of Sir William Twysden, 1st Bt., of Roydon Hall, East Peckham, Kent. educ. St. Paul’s c.1642-5; travelled abroad (France) 1645-9; I. Temple, entered 1647, 1656; Camb. 1649-50. m. 19 Feb. 1666, Lady Anne Compton (d. 26 May 1705), da. of Spencer Compton, 2nd Earl of Northampton, 2da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. nephew 2 July 1665.1

Offices Held

Gent. usher to Queen Catherine of Braganza 1662-at least 1679; commr. for Tangier 1662-80, surveyor-gen. of the mole 1669-76; jt. farmer of alum works 1665-79; asst. R. Fishery Co. 1677.2

Capt. of militia ft. Yorks. (N. Riding) by 1665-?60, dep. lt. 1666-Feb. 1688; j.p. (N. Riding) 1668-Feb. 1688 Nov. 1688-d., Peterborough 1682; commr. for assessment (N. Riding) 1673-80, Northants. 1679-80; common councilman, Scarborough aft. 1684-Mar. 1688.3


Cholmley was descended from a cadet branch of the Cholmondeleys of Cheshire which acquired lands in Yorkshire in the late 15th century, and represented the county in 1558. His father, who sat for Scarborough in five Parliaments, took a prominent part in resisting ship-money, and raised a regiment for Parliament in 1642. A strong churchman, he went over to the King in the following year and became governor of Scarborough. He took his family abroad in 1645, returning after the execution of Charles I to compound for his estates. He was fined £850 on property estimated at £1,000 p.a. Cholmley himself, who had been promised a place in the bedchamber, later claimed that only illness had prevented him from taking part in the Worcester campaign. He went abroad again in 1658, and on his return to England a royalist agent wrote: ‘The young gentleman does the King very good service; his principles are right, and he is well esteemed by moderate Presbyterians’.4

On the disablement of Luke Robinson in 1660, the Duke of York recommended Cholmley to fill the vacancy at Scarborough, but he was not elected. In 1662 he was given a post in the Queen’s household and appointed to the Tangier committee. His colleague Samuel Pepys, who described him as ‘a fine, worthy, well-disposed gentleman’, recorded Cholmley’s growing irritation with the frivolity and extravagance of the Court and his belief that the kingdom would ‘of necessity ... fall back again to a Commonwealth’. In 1663 Cholmley, in partnership with Sir John Lawson, the admiral, and the Earl of Teviot, governor of Tangier, was granted a contract to build a mole across the harbour there. He had made a special study of the subject and had gained practical experience in the construction of a pier at Whitby. Even after succeeding to the family estate on which he developed the alum deposits, he spent a large part of his time at Tangier supervising the work. The project ran into financial difficulties, and in 1669, when he was the only surviving contractor, the contract was cancelled and a department for the mole set up under Cholmley as surveyor general with a salary of £1,500 p.a. Severe storms caused serious damage to the mole in the winter of 1674-5, and in 1676 he was replaced as surveyor-general by his assistant, Henry Shere. Cholmley wrote a journal of his life and an account of his work at Tangier, to which he prefixed a memoir of his early years.5

According to this memoir, Cholmley’s childhood had been passed mainly in Northamptonshire, where he formed a close friendship with his contemporary, [Sir] Henry Yelverton, and these ties had been strengthened by his marriage. Lord Manchester [Robert Montagu] and Yelverton’s son, Lord Grey de Ruthin, encouraged him to stand for Northampton at the first general election of 1679. He was successful, and marked ‘base’ on Shaftesbury’s list. In the first Exclusion Parliament he was appointed to only three committees, of which the most important was for the prevention of illegal exactions; but he made seven speeches. He spoke evasively in the debate of 12 Mar. on the King’s rejection of Edward Seymour as Speaker, arguing that ‘the matter ... is of the nature of those things, which had better lie undetermined, than be decided either way’, and moved to proceed to the choice of a new Speaker. On 17 Apr. he opposed a motion to place the money voted for disbanding the army in the chamber of London instead of the Exchequer, on the grounds that this would offend the King at a time when they needed his help to pass laws to protect the country in the event of a Popish successor. He spoke against the address for the removal of Lauderdale on 6 May, saying

all the great officers, and those most in affairs, have been removed and changed no less than four, five and six times over; and yet neither have complaints lessened, nor ... affairs at all mended.

He shocked the House by reflecting on the foreign ideas acquired by the King whilst in exile abroad, and blaming the lack of vigilance of the post-Restoration Parliaments. He went on to suggest the prevention of

that great familiarity and access, which the ministers of foreign princes and more especially those of France [have] unto His Majesty’s privacies and solitudes.

He spoke twice against exclusion. First on 27 Apr. when he urged that

it must be ... the steady endeavours of this House to make things so much more uneasy to the Papists after the King’s death than they are whilst he is living, that it shall be the interests of all the Papists, and of the Duke himself, to wish the continuance of the King’s life.

To this end he moved ‘that the debates of the House may be at this time so to limit the power of the successor, as to make the people safe’ He repeated these arguments in a later debate on 11 May, when he maintained that putting aside the Duke of York would be

so full of inconvenience that we ourselves should not agree to it: for besides that there are many doubting men that will question the very validity of such an Act of Parliament; so if we put by the Duke, whom shall we give the sceptre to?

He moved for a committee to prepare a bill for their protection against a Popish successor ‘by taking out of his hands all power that may in any kind be held prejudicial to our safety and by placing such authority in successive Parliaments’. Ten days later he voted against the exclusion bill. He also spoke twice in debates concerning the Earl of Danby. First, on the dispute with the Lords who wished to proceed with the trial of the five Popish lords before considering the question of Danby’s pardon, he supported the Lords in urging no further delay in the trial and disputing the claims of those who considered the pardon threatened Parliament’s control over supply, saying: ‘the right of money is one of the pillars of the Government, so inherent in the people [that] an Act of Parliament cannot take it from them’. In a later debate he made a long speech warmly defending Danby and particularly praising his opposition to the interests of France and the Roman Catholic Church, whose machinations he blamed for the Treasurer’s overthrow. He had proved himself so formidable in debate that at the following general election Ralph Montagu* stepped down from a county seat to keep him out.6In July 1683 Cholmley assured Secretary Jenkins of his loyalty:

I have some reason to hope there will be changes both in the persons and the minds of those that compose the next House of Commons, that they may act more according to the sense of the nation than did some of our late representatives ... I now hope the whole nation will find that an honest loyalty is the best policy, and that the way to prevent all fears from the growth of our neighbours is not to pinch and straiten His Majesty’s affairs, but to support him with such cheerful supplies as may let the world see he is master of their hearts and purses.

He was elected for Thirsk in 1685, probably on the recommendation of the Roman Catholic Lord Belasyse, a kinsman by marriage under whom he had served at Tangier. On 26 May he presented a petition from some of the York electorate against Sir John Reresby. A moderately active Member of James II’s Parliament, he was appointed to five committees, including that for taking the disbandment accounts. In view of the interest on which he sat, he could hardly object to the employment of Roman Catholics in the army, but after the recess he stressed the usefulness of the militia and criticized the liberality of earlier grants of supply. Danby listed him among the Opposition, and to the lord lieutenant’s questions on the Test Act and Penal Laws he replied:

As I never used previous meetings to lead my votes, so I always voted as I thought upon hearing the debate, and therefore cannot give a certain answer to the question undiscussed. ... It is still more difficult to know how another man will give his vote. I shall endeavour to choose such Members as will act and vote as I myself would do. ... No man can differ more in opinion from myself than I differ at the same time from him, and in equal causes the living fairly seems to me a debt so justly due to human nature [that] I must think meanly of anyone [who] should either slacken his kindness or other friendly office merely on account of religion or opinion.

He was removed from municipal and county office, and when the Dutch invasion became imminent the lord lieutenant was ordered to seize his horses. No doubt he welcomed the Revolution, but he died on 9 Jan. 1689 and was buried at Whitby. His only surviving daughter had married a London merchant called Nathaniel Cholmeley, whose parentage is unknown, and their elder son inherited the estate and sat for Hedon as a Whig from 1708 to 1721.7

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: P. A. Bolton / Paula Watson


  • 1. This biography is based on Sir Hugh Cholmley, Account of Tangier (1787).
  • 2. Pepys Diary, 6 Aug., 27 Oct. 1662; R. B. Turton, Alum Farm, 187, 191; CJ, ix. 457; Williamson Letters (Cam. Soc. n.s. ix), 149; E. M. G. Routh, Tangier, 348, 354; Sel. Charters (Selden Soc. xxviii), 198.
  • 3. Add. 41254, ff 5, 28v; HMC Var. ii. 169; PC2/72/640; Fenland N. and Q. vi. 215.
  • 4. VCH N. Riding, ii. 496, 503, 517; Cal. Comm. Comp. 2062; CSP Dom. 1658-9, p. 576; Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 560.
  • 5. Adm. 2/1745, f. 2; Pepys Diary, 6 Mar., 21 June, 12 July, 9 Aug. 1667; Routh, 37, 343-54; Turton, 183.
  • 6. Add. 29557, f. 94; Grey, vi. 434; vii. 139-40, 189-90, 191, 244; HMC Ormonde n.s. v. 84; BL, M636/33, John to Sir Ralph Verney, 11 Aug. 1679.
  • 7. CSP Dom. July-Sept. 1683; Grey, viii. 357, 367; HMC Var. ii. 404; Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ii. 256.